It was early in the new arts season on a Tuesday morning. The ArtsBoston team was together in a basement office on Columbus Avenue, gathered around a small television. Someone had received notification that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers and while everyone watched in horror, another plane crashed into the second tower. Not wanting to be alone, individuals from other member organizations began to gather together in our space as the tragedy of September 11, 2001 unfolded.
In the middle of the shock the rest of the country was feeling, the ArtsBoston team had to quickly devise a plan; member arts organizations needed immediate assistance with performances scheduled for that evening. There was a fractured reality of both dealing with a situation that felt unreal and providing a feeling of safety, comfort, and mobilization. We immediately closed our two BosTix booths in Copley Square and Faneuil Hall Marketplace and notified all patrons who had bought advance tickets through BosTix that performances were cancelled. With uncertainty, the team gathered the materials they would need for the next few days and then dispersed to the respite of their homes.
And then, the news came out…Boston was part of this once-in-a-lifetime story. Our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and families were all directly impacted from two of the planes leaving from Logan, but also the countless transplants who now worked in Manhattan and Washington DC. We were trying to unravel so many things, even from an arts perspective. Performers were unable to get home because of travel being grounded for days. Large venues were shut down due to fear of more attacks. And while small bits of normalcy like going to the grocery store or returning to work returned over the unfolding days, there was still a real feeling that it just didn’t feel right to do “fun” things like go to the theater, visit a museum, or go to a concert.
About a week later, people felt they could begin to gather again and in turn, ArtsBoston worked with a city-wide coalition to put together a rally in the middle of the Theater District. We felt (as we always have) the arts are so much more than entertainment. They’re an essential component of society and certainly helpful in a society looking for answers. The intent of the rally was to kickstart us back into that place – to send a message that it was safe to come back.
We say all this because a lot of those lessons learned 20 years ago are relevant today. There is still fear; there is still trepidation; there is still doubt. But we have resolve and the strength that we as a community can withstand the hardest times.
One performance stands out amongst a sea of positivity: the reopening of The Huntington was extraordinary. The audience was there to see the dramatization of James Joyce’s The Dead. a story which has both laughs and tears, and provided a moment of shared humanity, of the wonder of life truly being lived. One could feel the electricity between those there to watch the show and those who were performing in it. That night, the Boston audience came together for a communal experience that provided both a release of emotions and a way to start moving forward.
The events of September 11, 2001 left the entire country in a period of uncertainty and unease. In our city, we realized that our mission was so much more than just promoting outstanding arts and culture. We became a refuge for those who couldn’t be alone at that time, a trusted source of information, and a beacon of hope that things would get better.
We reflect on that day often now in today’s uncertainty knowing that better times are coming.
The circumstances of a global pandemic are different but the need for healing, safety, comfort, community, storytelling, and inspiration are the same. The arts are human expression told through story, movement, color, light and sound – a refuge and catalyst for its audiences.
We welcome your return.
Executive Director, ArtsBoston
Header photo: Looking up through the top of the 9/11 Memorial at Logan Airport. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)